Sunday, October 15, 2017

Playing the part of Sam Malone today: Ignatz Gloogdeberg

After a sitcom has been on the air for a number of years – like ten -- it’s understandable that the cast loses a certain amount of interest. They know their characters so well and they know the routine so well that they don't require as much rehearsal as in the early discovery years.

Also, they become big stars by year ten. They suddenly have movie careers. They front worthwhile charities. They start their own production companies and split their attention between the show and their various new projects. They buy homes on the east coast and have to let the painters in.

On CHEERS during the last two seasons the runthroughs were unlike anything I’d ever seen. First let me say that I adore the CHEERS cast – every one of ‘em. They’re great people, terrific actors, and very respectful of the writers and everyone on the crew.

But for those last few seasons they often had other obligations and would miss rehearsal. Like I said, they didn’t need it. The only problem was that we writers did need to see a runthrough to determine what worked and what didn't.

And there were times we would go down to the stage for a runthrough and it would be the first assistant director playing Sam, the script supervisor playing Rebecca, the prop guy playing Woody, the wardrobe girl playing Carla, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger. This is what I assume community productions of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA look like.

We’d go back to the room and have no idea what we had. Someone would say, “I don’t think this Sam joke works” and the rest of us would say, “How do we know? Ignatz Gloogdeberg played him.” It was insane.

The craziest was the time we cut a certain actor’s joke who wasn’t at the runthrough. The actor came in the next day, was annoyed that the line was gone, and chided the stand-in for not selling the joke sufficiently.

In fairness, runthroughs with 80% understudies didn’t happen every week, although it was not unusual to have at least one person out for a rehearsal. That the episodes held together so well is also a testament to how well we writers knew the show and could write for it.

The filming nights would be a little rocky because not everyone knew their lines perfectly. But they would always rise to the occasion and on the air CHEERS appeared as polished as ever.

Although… if I'm being 100% honest --  there were times we writers would be on the stage watching the filming and say, “Hey, Zelda did a better job of that joke.”


Mike said...

Wth all due respect, Ken, I thought the last few seasons of Cheers were rather weak. It was clear that the writers were having a tough time coming up with new storylines for the characters. And those characters became so one dimensional: Sam got dumber, Carla got meaner, etc.

The last really strong season of Cheers was season 6, when David Angel, Peter Casey, and David Lee were running the show. The years with Cheri Eichen/Bill Steinkellner/Phoef Sutton as showrunners were a step down, though there were still some gems here and there.

Kent Nicholas said...

To each their own, I thought the later seasons were stronger because they relied more on the ensemble and less on the Sam/Diane thing which after 5 years dragged out way too long for me. I thought it was just flat out funnier in its 2nd half run.

Chris G said...

I remember hearing the show described as five years of Sam and Diane, three years of Sam and Rebecca, and three years of screwball/slapstick, which sounds about right. I finished a rewatch a few years ago and the only really sour plotline was when Sam and Rebecca were trying to get pregnant, then decided not to and it was never mentioned again.

Toby said...

This is why FRIENDS, toward the end, got to where it took so damn long to do that they'd have to change out audiences halfway through. The six stars would appear for the show without ever having even looked at the script, so you'd end up having to do four days worth of work with them in one night.

Max Clarke said...

The best writers and the best actors can't push back time.

The show got older and the audience got older and the times changed...but I still enjoy watching the "final lap" episodes of Cheers.

If you had started watching Cheers as a college freshman, you could have graduated from medical school and the show still would have been running. But think of how much you and the world had changed in that time.

I was a big Star Wars fan when I was young. By the time Lucas made the next three movies, I was less interested. These days, my interest is even lower. I watched The Force Awakens, but there are two more coming up and I just don't care so much. I guess the Force is weak with me.

Maybe the Mary Tyler Moore show did the perfect thing. Seven years and out. But Cheers is still my favorite sitcom.

Toby the Wonder Horse said...

I went to Millard Fillmore Junior High with an Ignatz Gloogdeberg. Wonder if that’s him.

Arthur Mee said...

Ken, I won't ask you to name the worst offender, but instead I'll ask for the best. Without saying anything against the rest of the very fine cast, was there a cast member (or members) during those final years who consistently *did* show up for rehearsal and know their lines?

(If I had to bet, I'd place my money on Roger Rees, and/or Bebe Neuwirth. Just a hunch.)

Peter said...

I gather that James Corden has upset people with jokes making light of rape allegations. Why is anyone surprised? I'd like to know who in Hollywood decided to give this talentless, charisma free prick a career in America. On the plus side, he's not on TV here in the UK so much anymore.

In trying to be edgy, he's fallen flat on his face. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving idiot.

AndrewJ said...

Ah yes, good ol' Ignatz. Of the Newport Gloogdebergs.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Well said. Will say, though, that "Frasier" was the only long-running sitcom I can think of whose quality, for the most part, seemingly eluded time.

And kudos to the five principal cast members for staying with the show the entire 11 years.

D. McEwan said...

Zelda's Carla was brilliant!

Diane D. said...

From reading this blog for 6 or 7 years, I would say it is about 10 to 1 favoring the Sam and Diane years. That's quite an achievement for a "will they, won't they, they did, they didn't, they did" story, and I doubt anyone could have pulled it off other than Ted Danson and Shelley Long. The next 6 years were funny, but they can't compare to the first 5. The sales of the DVDs will bear that out.

Shaun S said...

The death of Tom Petty has reminded me of the movie "The Postman" and I was wondering if you would be allowed to write a review of the movie as Cliff Clavin or would it be against copyright law?

Shaun S said...

My comment above is meant as an example, I meant to add because you created "Almost Perfect" can you write something as Chris Cooper or does the studio own the copyright?

Arthur Mee said...

Shaun, if Ken was doing it for a single blog post, it would be fine. Parody is protected. So even though a studio owns the right to a character, you (or me, or Ken) could write a funny little parody article with no worries. So go ahead and write "Captain Kirk reviews the new Star Trek series", or "How I Would Deal With Donald Trump by Tony Soprano".

And yes, Ken could write something in Cliff's voice.

Now, if it were a series of blog posts, or something like "The Cliff Clavin Movie Review Site -- Updated Daily!", Paramount might get snippy and eventually send a cease and desist. Kind of depends on how much he's pushing things. Now we're into more of a gray area -- is it parody, or is Ken trying to profit from the rights to a character he doesn't own?

Generally speaking, if you're not making a profit, and not writing material that would make the characters disgusting and/or objectionable, and keeping a relatively low profile, you'll probably fly under the radar, or even be given de facto permission. It's kinda case by case.

A real life example is some fan-created Star Trek material. There are produced on-line fan-made episodes of original "Star Trek" spinoffs. Some of these are written by former Star Trek writers (David Gerrold, D.C. Fontana), and in some cases they feature actual "Star Trek" actors in their iconic roles. (George Takei as Sulu, Walter Koenig as Chekov, Grace Lee Whitney as Rand....) Because they are made not for profit, but for fun, and are not sold but distributed freely, Paramount has elected to let these productions continue. However, Paramount has made it clear these fan shows cannot use any script/book/movie material Paramount owns, market themselves as official Star Trek material, etc.

Is that helpful?